Yesterday, I worked through part of a large collection donated by John Nealy Mears upon his death in 1969. Mears was very interested in the history of Whitpain township, railroads, and local fire companies. He collected many early records of the Centre Square Fire Company, which was founded in 1913 and is still going today. Mears wrote a history of the company for its 1963 anniversary. Below are some highlights from that history.
On February 21, 1913, a group of men from Centre Square, Blue Bell, Belfry, and other parts of Whitpain gathered at the Centre Square Hotel to discuss establishing a fire company. This led to a town meeting a few days later at the Odd Fellow’s Hall.
By the end of the month, 35 men had signed up as the first members of the fire company. More would soon join, so the fire company actually had 73 charter members. Early meetings continued to be held at the Odd Fellow’s hall, but in 1914, the company rented a former livery stable across from the hotel, and it bought the property a few years later.
Firefighting was certainly different in the early 20th century. When Centre Square Fire Company bought it’s first fire wagon, they did not buy a horse to go with it. Mears writes, “many of the early members were farmers and farmers are practical men.” They simply took the place of the horse and pulled the wagon themselves, only utilizing horses from their farms if the fire was out of town.
The first fire recorded in the minutes was on November 6, 1913 at Walter Schaeff, Sr.’s barn. The company’s second fire was the very same night at John R. Morris’s home. In 1919, the firefighters bought their first real fire truck, an REO Speedwagon (yes, like the rock band).
In those early days the water came from ponds, lakes, and dams maintained by local homeowners for the purposes of fighting fires. The men in charge of managing those water sources were known as the “Dam Committee.”
Over the decades, many men and women had donated their time and money to the Centre Square Fire Company, and it’s still around today fighting fires in Whitpain.